Friday, March 1, 2024

iGaming a Seeming Non-Starter as Mississippi Prepares for Online Sports Betting Battle

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While a push for online sports betting is coming in the legislature, it may steer clear of any online casino language.

Passing an online sports betting bill in Mississippi could be a tough sell. Passing an iGaming bill, however, could be impossible. 

Members of Mississippi’s “Mobile-Online Sports Betting Task Force” held what was expected to be their last public hearing on Tuesday, with members gathering more input and receiving a briefing from the state’s Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.

The task force’s findings and recommendations are due to be delivered to the state legislature by December 15. Proposed legislation could follow after that, but any bill will likely avoid language that hints at online casino gambling, as the task force heard concerns from physical gaming operators

As matters currently stand, Mississippi legislators have their work cut out for them with just online sports betting. Chris Hopwood, director of sportsbook operations for Choctaw Resort Development Enterprises, which includes Pearl River Resort and Bok Homa Casino in Mississippi, rehashed some of those concerns about mobile wagering on Tuesday.

Hopwood warned the task force about the threat posed by “corporate giants” such as DraftKings and FanDuel to the employment and revenue the physical casinos provide. 

“These corporations do not have Mississippi’s best interests at heart,” Hopwood said. “They only care about their own profits, and they do not have a connection with the people.”

Task force co-chair Rep. Casey Eure reiterated on Tuesday that he plans to introduce online sports betting-related legislation. He also suggested the bill could address concerns the physical casino operators have about online gaming sites eventually encroaching on their traditional turf. 

“My number one goal is to protect bricks and mortar,” Eure told the committee. “I’ve said that from the beginning. This bill would not have anything to do with iGaming.”

The comments make it clear that while a push for online sports betting is coming in the legislature, it may steer clear of any online casino language. In that, Mississippi is following the cautious stance other states have adopted. While more than 25 states have legalized some form of mobile sports betting, only seven have done the same for iGaming. 

Lots of other stuff to worry about

In the meantime, the task force and legislators still have to sort through a variety of other issues related to online sports betting, such as whether to allow certain player props, what the tax rate should be, and how exactly mobile bookmakers should be tied to brick-and-mortar casinos. One task force member also floated the notion of a referendum in connection with the proposed expansion of wagering. 

There is legal sports betting in Mississippi, but it is confined to brick-and-mortar casino properties run by commercial and tribal operators. Statewide mobile sports betting is not yet allowed in the state, although BetMGM is available on the grounds of the Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica, and two other facilities permit mobile wagering while on the property. 

Mississippi has 26 commercially operated casinos owned by 16 different ownership groups, including PENN Entertainment Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Inc., the task force heard Tuesday. Members were also informed there were 367 sports betting kiosks in the state at last count, according to the Mississippi Gaming Commission. 

Whither the brick-and-mortar sportsbook?

There are another three tribal-owned casinos in Mississippi, two of which have sports betting already. The third plans to launch its sportsbook features soon, the task force heard.

The task force has heard concerns about online sports betting in the southern state from some brick-and-mortar casino operators. Those worries include possible erosion of hotel and hospitality revenues, as well as the potential for iGaming legalization to follow.

“This is a true inflection point for our state and our hope is that you will support the existing sports betting operations in Mississippi and oppose attempts to expand mobile statewide sports betting,” Hopwood said. “However, if the decision is made to allow mobile sports betting, how will this include Choctaw’s sports betting operations?”

The bill creating the online sports betting task force was passed by the Mississippi legislature and approved by the governor in March. The committee’s mandate is to “undertake a comprehensive analysis of all matters related to online sports betting within this state,” and it was legally required to hold its first meeting within 60 days of the law taking effect, which happened July 1. 

Findings and recommendations from the task force must be submitted to the legislature by December 15.

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